Two Choices in Troubled Times
You've found yourself in troubled times before, haven't you? Things were difficult, painful, stressful. In such a situation, how many different prayers do you think a person could say? Hundreds? Thousands? No. There are but two. There are but two choices of what to pray in troubled times. And these are troubled times.
For the first time since Vietnam our country is engaged in a sustained war. We've lived with rumors of war for a year and a half. We're now living with real war and rumors about it lasting into the blazing hot Iraqi summer, about there being chemical or biological weapons once we get in Baghdad, about the war expanding into Syria and Iran. Soldiers are missing in action; soldiers are dying; soldiers are being taken captive. And we're troubled. Will our kids or grandkids have to go? Will I have to go? Is all the information I'm receiving accurate? Is there really as much opposition to this war as some would lead me to believe?
If war and its accompanying rumors are not enough to trouble you, what about disease? I'm not referring to the "normal" diseases we are warned against day in and day out. I'm not talking about blood pressure readings or cholesterol numbers. I'm talking about SARS. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. I've been watching this story creep from the back of the paper and the war news to page two. Some liken SARS to the Hong Kong flu of the late 80s; others liken it to the Spanish Influenza that killed millions world wide in 1918-1919. Doctors don't know what causes it. It appears to be highly contagious, and they don't have a cure for it. I'm troubled. Here I thought modern medicine was far beyond being made helpless by something so common place as the flu.
War on one side; a strange disease on the other, but this is not what has me troubled. Maybe not you either. What troubles a person is always personal. It may not have anything to do with what it going on in the world around them. Nobody around you may know about it, but it's there. Big as life; bigger than life. Nobody around you may know about your troubles, but Jesus does. The text teaches us this. Jesus says, "Now My heart is troubled."
Believe Jesus when He says, "My heart is troubled." The Greek word means agitated, grieved, troubled in the sense of water that is all whipped up. Don't think of waves rolling in predictably at the coast. Think of storm tossed water heaving back and forth frantically. Our text takes place on Palm Sunday. On Maundy Thursday St. Mark will report that Jesus is "greatly distressed." In Greek, that means Jesus is in the grip of something so horrible that He is physically shaking. St. Matthew describes Jesus then as "deeply grieved." In Greek it has the idea of being helpless, disoriented, anguished. The Epistle reading described Jesus in the Garden as offering prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears. Only of Jesus could it truthfully be said, Nobody knows the troubles He's seen.
So no matter what troubles you in these troubled times, no matter if it's the times themselves or something else, Jesus knows the troubles you're seeing down to the sinking feeling you have in your stomach and the agitated one you have in your head. And you have the same options of praying that Jesus had. You too can pray, "Save me from this hour."
You can be firmly convinced in your heart and mind that as a brother or sister of Christ Jesus you have the right to pray to God almighty "with all boldness and confidence as dear children ask their dear father." Jesus won the right for you to come boldly before God's throne of grace and cry, "Save me from this hour" whether it be the hour of war or disease or trembling trouble. Every reason God had for not answering your prayer, Jesus took care of. Condemned prisoners being dragged to the injection room me be troubled, trembling and begging for help, but they are not heard. Why? Because the Law says they don't deserve to be heard. God's Law says condemned sinners never deserve to be heard by the holy Father.
Deal with the Law and there would be nothing standing in the way of God hearing your prayer, "Save me from this hour." Jesus dealt with the Law by taking upon Himself all the obligations of the Law and fulfilling them. There is not one righteous requirement of the Law that Jesus did not fulfill for you. But what about the judgments of the Law? Someone had to be put to death because the Law demanded it as punishment for sins. So Jesus went to the cross bearing our sins, being our troubles, bearing our trembling anxious hearts. Every cut of the whip, every whack of the hammer, every flame of hell that we deserve, Jesus bore.
So my dear friends pray, shout, cry to your heavenly Father, "Save me from this hour!" And you will be heard, not because your pain is so bad but because Jesus' pain was so bad. You will be heard, not because you've ever been good enough, but because Jesus was more than good enough in your place. You will be heard, not because your sinful heart is so troubled, but because Jesus' most holy heart was troubled unto death and damnation.
With orders to go to Iraq in your hands, in your son's hands, in your grandson's hands, you can pray to God the Father, "Save him or save me from this hour." Having just heard from your doctor that you have SARS or any one of a thousand other things that can go drastically wrong with these fallen bodies, you can pray, "Father, save me from this hour." When you're faced with a path you don't want to go down, with fears you don't want to face, with troubles that you ache to be free from, you can pray with a confident heart knowing the Father is glad to hear you say, "Save me from this hour," and He will do far more than you ask or think.
However, there is another prayer you can pray. There's another option, to pray, "Father glorify your name." Jesus knew that this was the prayer He should pray rather than "save Me from this hour" because He knew it was for the hour of suffering, trembling, sorrowing and dying that He had come. He had come to this hour of trouble to pay for your sins. That means you don't, you can't, you won't ever come to an hour of trouble to pay for your sins. That's a done deal. Your sinful debt has been paid in full even though you remain a sinner till the day you die racking up charges. Christ's blood was that of an eternal covenant. It has eternal value before God. Since you don't come up against troubled times to pay for sins and you can't know, as Jesus did, what the purpose of your troubles is, you are free to pray, "Father save me from this hour, but you're also free to pray, "Father, glorify Your name."
However, I warn you this is one scary prayer. God glorified His name by drowning a whole world of people in the flood. God glorified His name by sending plagues upon Egypt. God's name was glorified when Satan sifted Peter like wheat and struck down the children of Job. God's name was glorified by Jeremiah being thrown down a well, Ezekiel's wife dying, and Daniel being thrown to the lions. God glorified His name by leaving Paul with a thorn in his flesh, Peter to die as a martyr, and John to suffer as an exile on Patmos. "Father, glorify Your name" means, "I don't care what happens to me O Lord; only let Your name be glorified."
That's scary, scary, scary. When the Father glorifies His name, you never know what might happen. People could die; people could suffer. My wisdom could be confounded; my will could be frustrated; my present hopes dashed; my worst fears realized. This is true, but look what the Father glorifying His name in answer to the prayer of Jesus did. Yes, it resulted in Jesus being betrayed by friends, arrested by enemies, convicted unjustly, and crucified unmercifully, but there is more. The passionate suffering that Jesus underwent to glorify the Father's name and redeem us led to that Baptismal font not being simple water only but a gracious Water of life. The Father glorifying His name led to the Son giving us His Body and Blood to eat and to drink for salvation. The Father answering the prayer from Jesus' mouth to glorify His name led to the Son placing the forgiveness of sins in the mouths of men.
Friends, if the Father glorifying His name through Jesus led to our redemption, salvation, and blessing in life and in death, do you honestly think that the Father glorifying His name in us could lead to something bad? Think about it. What would it mean to glorify your name as father as opposed to US citizen, or employee or church member? Would your name "father" be glorified by mistreating your kids? Would your name "father" be glorified by not providing for your kids? Would your name "father" be glorified by anything that would ultimately harm your kids? O I know that kids, particularly teenagers, think and especially feel that almost anything you do or don't do is in someway harmful to them, but you know most of them come around to the truth of your love in later years as you yourself did.
My point is this. You know that your name, your reputation, your honor as father would only be glorified by helping your sons and daughters. You also know that even though you are a fallen, selfish, sinner you would never, ever set out purposely to harm, hurt, or frustrate a child of yours that said, "Dad do whatever you think is best for me." On the contrary, your fatherly heart would go out to them and you would strive, you would suffer, you would help them far more than they ask or are even able to think. My dear, dear fellow fallen sinner: If our sinful, yet redeemed hearts, can aspire to such heights, how much more so the holy heart of God the Father? If my children need have no fear of saying to me, the sinful father, "Dad do what you think is best for me," then I need not be afraid to pray to the holy Father, "Glorify your name."
And what a joy this prayer is. There are so many troubling things in my life that I honestly don't know what to pray concerning them. I go back and forth about the war for Iraqi freedom and the war against terror here at home. I wonder about this disease and that disease. This up and down economy scares me. My whole life I've been taught not just by the world, not just by my own flesh but even by the organized church, that I can't live as if the only thing keeping me free from war, disease, and trouble is a loving heavenly Father. No, I've been told I must do this and that, and not do that and this, but dear friends it is just too, too much for me to do. So I despair; I tremble; I'm troubled. But in this text, I learn that I can pray, "Father glorify your name." "Father, I don't know what should or should not happen. I don't know what to do or not to do. All I can pray is that your name, Father, in which I am redeemed, forgiven, and saved for all time and eternity be glorified in my life too."
And He will do this. He has done it. And He is doing it. We can pray both prayers, but there is a difference. "Save me from this hour" comes from a troubled heart while "glorify Your name" comes from a trusting one. "Save me from this hour" focuses my attention on the hour of trouble. "Glorify Your name" focuses me on the Father who saved me. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lent V (4-6-03), John 12: 20-33